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Kerrey, in an about-face, is seeking U.S. Senate seat he formerly held

Former Sen. Bob Kerrey said Wednesday he will seek the Democratic nomination for the Nebraska seat he once held, reversing course just weeks after publicly rejecting a run.

Last month, Kerrey opted out of the race to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, saying that not running was best for him and his family.

"It just felt wrong," Kerrey, 68, said during a telephone call to declare his candidacy. "I wasn't happy with the decision."

The turnaround by the 1992 presidential candidate and former Nebraska governor came a day before the state's filing deadline for candidates. Coupled with Maine Republican Sen. Olympia J. Snowe's announcement Tuesday that she will not seek re-election, it gives new hope to national Democrats desperate to stop Republicans from netting four Senate seats this fall and regaining control of the chamber.

Kerrey, a Medal of Honor winner as a Navy SEAL in the Vietnam War, said he was watching the Academy Awards with his wife, former "Saturday Night Live" writer Sarah Paley, when she said to him: " 'You're not happy. I can see it. And I want you to be happy.' "

Kerrey also acknowledged encouragement to reconsider from national Democrats, including multiple telephone conversations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Asked whether Reid had offered him any incentives, such as preserving Kerrey's seniority from his earlier two-term service, Kerrey said, "I did have some things that I asked for."

However welcome by the national party, Kerrey's late decision is sure to create interstate friction. Fellow Democrat Chuck Hassebrook stepped into the race after Kerrey bowed out, giving up a University of Nebraska regent seat he's held for nearly 18 years.

Hassebrook has vowed to stay in the Senate race.

The back-and-forth should come as little surprise coming from Kerry, a man affectionately dubbed "Cosmic Bob" while he was senator for his tendency to ponder decisions and change his mind on any number of issues.

Others believe that his indecision will factor into the race.

"It will be harder for him to explain and be serious about this," said Mike Wagner, political science professor at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

Republicans wasted no time launching renewed attacks on Kerrey. The National Republican Senatorial Committee put out a statement calling Kerrey "a tax-and-spend liberal" and suggesting his candidacy stems from "backroom deal-making."

The GOP also is sure to hammer Kerrey's decision to leave the Senate and Nebraska to move to New York, where he has lived for the last decade, and become president of the New School.

The GOP's Senate primary ticket already includes five candidates.